This article investigates the antecedents, experience and consequences of service in the lives of rural-born Dutch women within the urbanizing and industrializing context of the second half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth. The decision to enter service was often taken by the girl's parents against the background of a distress-ridden household. From the latter part of the nineteenth century, the migration fields of servants widened, with women more often serving in middle-class households in the growing large cities. The consequences of out-migration to these urban and more diverse labour and marriage markets, and for some women also the educational work setting of urban service itself, were that larger proportions of women contracted advantageous marriages and settled outside their rural region of birth. © 2004 Cambridge University Press.